Evensong.

At this time of the year, I have always enjoyed choral music. I guess my appreciation went back to my college days when I would end the semester at Allegheny College with the annual pre-Christmas holiday concert in the chapel on campus. There is something special about choir music that sets the mood for Christmas and when I headed back to the dorm, my head was right for the celebration of the birth of Christ. There was something comforting in that music and it always took the burrs off finals and cramming to make decent grades. I felt like all was right with the world as I relaxed and headed home for Christmas vacation.

Fast forward and I found myself cycling in England a number of years ago. At the end of every ride, I would head back to the B&B,shower, and then hustle over to the famous cathedrals nearby and listen to the 4:00 PM presentation of Evensong. This has always been a tradition in the Anglican Church where the choir sings in the late afternoon or evening and the public is welcome. So much so, that in Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, I was invited to come up and sit right in the middle of the choir on either side of the main aisle. What an experience listening to the beautiful harmony on all sides. It was quite moving and I remember it vividly to this day. Some days I was running late and went straight to the cathedral in my cycling togs. I was hoping I was not too disgusting for the sharply dressed, starched, choir in their vestments, as I sheepishly sat in with them and profusely apologized between songs, as I perspired all over the stone floor. They nodded politely and continued on with the presentation.

Nowadays, I rarely have a chance to listen in person, but I do tend to take in choir music on my Pandora Channel with some renditions by Libera, and even more secular music by Lorenna McKennett or Enya that gives you the same relaxed feeling as you drive. Their Celtic music with that haunting melody, can be equally relaxing. Sometimes, this kind of music can actually alter your mood and relieve stress if you do like I do, and drive the back way to and from work without fighting the masses on the freeways. I would rather go a little out of my way, enjoy the scenery, and take in the changing leaves or the gently falling snow which decorates the pines in the hollows of my commute. Those of you who know me might be wondering if I somehow have a loose screw. But I am here to tell you that as much as I like rock and R&B, I can equally be entertained and relaxed on the Spa Channel or choral music on my drives to work.

This time of year, I also have the opportunity to drive to the mountains on Saturday mornings for some local skiing in our Laurel Highlands. Being the Type “A” person that I am, the day begins well before sunrise and I am on the road in the dark. That quiet time in the car is a wonderful time for me as I anticipate a great day of skiing with my friends and have the opportunity to sip some coffee and listen to some relaxing music on the Libera station on Pandora. Sometimes I will listen to Gregorian Chant by the Benedictine Monks on the album “Chant”. The byproduct of this mood altering music is the fact that I am totally relaxed as I enter the parking lot, go to the lodge, and begin the process of booting up. Once I am on the slopes, I can still hear the chorale music in my mind which helps me make relaxing turns on the hill as juxtaposed to the headphone wearing death metal music that the crazies are listening to buzzing all around me. My elbows are out! Efficient skiing and boarding is smooth. Relaxing music creates smooth turns. Flex the ankles and finish the turns. Kyrie Eleison.

So what’s the point Pat? Well- simply put, give choral music, Gregorian Chant, and Celtic music a chance. This time of year it always gets you in the mood and is a nice alternative from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And, if you are headed to the mountains for skiing, or a ride, or anywhere else where a car ride is involved, make the most of it and unload the stress from the week. Also, this type of music can make you think about the reason for the season. The words bring you to the real meaning of Christmas and release you from all the stress inducing secular time crunches for a consumer oriented holiday. I think of Evensong and am glad that I had that experience to make me appreciate the season. Thanks for reading and enjoy your Christmas or Hanukkah, and quiet times in the car.

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You Can Never Go Back to the Green.

So as I was driving up to the mountains last weekend, I was listening to the Billy Joel Channel on Sirius Radio. Bopping along the turnpike to the tunes of “Stiletto”, ” Piano Man” and my all time favorite ” Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. I thought about Brenda and Eddie and how they had it all together with their crowd at the Green. But life got in the way, they divorced, and tried to resume their former life. ” The King and the Queen went back to the Green but you can never go back there again.” That line always hits me. You can never go back there again.

My friend Frank, down in Virginia ,always says to me that he would like to come back home and hang out at Stone Field again to ride road bikes and run with the Hot Harry’s crowd. Fact of the matter when I talk to Frank, is that there are not many left of the Hot Harry’s crowd and people have moved on and there is a whole new crowd at the park with the kings and queens being fresh new athletic faces whom we don’t recognize. Not the same Frank. You can’t go back to the Green Frank. None of us can.

I thought of all the good times that I had with the ski group back in the day. We all were young and at Christmas time, we boarded a big flatbed truck and sang Christmas carols around the mountain and drained everyone’s booze and beer supply. So much fun but again, reminiscing is fine but that crowd, for the most part, has married, and had kids, and now grand kids, and life has changed. My life has changed too but in many ways, I feel like Peter Pan wishing life would not change and we could go back to the Green one more time. But that is not to be and clearing my head, I think how blessed I am with my family and friends.

Driving in the car, you have a lot of thoughts in your head as you listen to music. You think about where you were when that song played. Songs remind you of the Green when you were among the kings and the queens of a younger day. You have fleeting thoughts about reuniting with old friends who have maybe moved on but like Billy says, you can never go back to the Green. It isn’t there and reminiscing all you want won’t take you there .

Janet and I put up our Christmas tree last night and as I looked at all the gold ornaments from the Danbury Mint that belonged to my folks, I thought about Christmas past in the McCloskey house. Many good memories and some not so good but for the most part, my folks made Christmas special for me and the ornaments reminded me of those days. But now I think how that tree fits in my house, and how those ornaments are part of our tree and Janet and I try to make memories for our son Jack and Jan’s mom who is 89 and living with us.¬†

Riding the chair lift the other day while skiing at our local resort in the Laurel Highlands, people were remarking how things had changed. This tree was cut down, and new construction completed, and widening of familiar slopes to accommodate today’s skiers all was viewed with different takes. But the bottom line is that the new ownership does things differently than the folks who started the resort back in the day. I looked at all the old pictures in the upstairs ski lodge lounge and thought about how good it was back in the “old days” and how much fun it was when we were the kings and queens of the mountain. But you can never go back.

As I get older, I start to realize that I can’t be like Brenda and Eddie. Or as the New Yorkers say, ” Brender and Eddie”. You have to embrace change. You have to look to the future. You cherish your old friends and make new ones. Life moves on folks and it is nice to have memories but now is the time to make new ones. Thanks for reading.

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Messiah

I have to hand it to George Frideric Handel. His oratorio produced in April of 1742 still stands today as one of the finest pieces of orchestral and vocal performance. On my way out of the beautifully decorated Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh the other night, Janet asked me how I knew every word and the accompanying solo artist performance? Aside from the fact that “Messiah” is all based on scripture and reveals the salvation message of the Bible, the music is powerful and the choral work is so inspiring it brings people like me to tears. The Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir bring this masterpiece to life and I always take the opportunity to take it in during the holidays when I can. The reason I know it well, is that at Christmas time, I play it often in my vehicle.

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” Isaiah 40:4 “Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain.” Isaiah 40:9

On my way to the mountains to ski, I listen to this verse and imagine the power of that day. In my meager effort to imitate the tenor part here, I sing it in my car much to the delight of passing truck drivers and toll booth operators. They laugh and think I am rocking out to something on the radio. Little do they know. Listening to this, and seeing the mountains around me in the car, it is almost like I am transported to a place higher than where I am.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us.” Isaiah 7:14

I take this in silence in the vehicle. Contemplative and the counter tenor part is inspiring.

“And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 10-11

Aside from thinking about Linus and Lucy in a Charlie Brown Christmas here, the soprano part definitely stirs the Christmas soul in all of us. This is a signature performance for the soprano in the oratorio and in Heinz Hall the other night, Rachel Gilmore was spectacular. I crank this up in the car when I listen on the road, because I really appreciate the talent of a trained soprano.

“All we like sheep have gone astray,we have turned everyone to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isiah 53:6

I hear this and think how crazy the world has gotten. Some of the things that have happened in the news- natural disasters, violence, division among us, it makes you think when you hear a chorus like the Mendelssohn sing this verse in a venue like Heinz Hall. Not only does the music stir you, but the words make you think about the message of Christmas. We need some help here folks.

Then comes the ultimate moment when tradition has all of us stand when the orchestra and the chorus sing the Hallelujah Chorus. One year I took my wife Janet to see the performance and it was a sing a long. All the local choirs came and sang each part with the Mendelssohn. When the Hallelujah Chorus was sung, all of Heinz Hall was singing and I almost jumped out of my seat. I sang the tenor part and was part of a powerful group of people singing their hearts out with one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras and an equally talented Mendelssohn Choir. We have a little history here in that my wife’s grandmother sang in the Mendelssohn years ago and when my mother in law went with us this year, she told the tales of the practices and performances in days gone past.

“Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Corinthians 15:55-56

Driving, or listening in Heinz Hall, I think of all who have gone before us. This beautiful message sung by the tenor and the counter tenor, makes me smile and think that they are happy and enjoying the best Christmas of their lives in the company of a celestial chorus of angels. What a vision.

Heinz Hall comes alive for one last chorus of the Great Amen and everyone is up and reveling in the magnificence of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the brass,the violins,the cellos,the resounding kettle drums, and the combined voices of the chorus that shake the walls. To a sentimental Christmas guy like me, memories come alive of Christmas in the past, and great treasures of Christmas present. I hold my wife’s hand as we listen to the last verse from Revelations 5:9.

I love it. I cannot wait to take it in again. If you get the chance, take in “Messiah.” One of the truly great musical and visual performances you will ever see. Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.

Singing with the Ladies

Coming at you a little early this week. Things to do, places to see.

I remember my first interest in music on the radio, stereo, etc. was when I first drove my mom’s old 1964 Buick Special convertible to high school and I had KQV AM Radio blasting, along with WAMO and Porky Chedwick, the platter pushing Papa. The Pork played a lot of Motown and Atlantic Record hits and I was hooked on driving to music.

Fast forward and I was in college and first became enamored with the female folk and rock singers of the time. Joni Mitchell was interesting to me with my deeply buried rebel side. ” They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” and ” Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now”, appealed to me as did her haunting voice and chords that no one else could possibly re-create on a guitar. Joni and the LA Express were cool and I played her records along with Linda Ronstadt – ” when will I be loved?” That one went rocking out the window with the KLH speakers. Grace Slick, Janis and Big Brother, were other female rockers who held my attention. joni-mitchelllinda-ronstadt-580

Moving along with my life, I found myself in Cambridge, Mass. post college graduation, visiting my future brother in law. He was a student at B.U and we went to a little venue that specialized in local talent on stage. Sitting there drinking a beer, a cool looking lady comes out with her cowboy boots and silver cockroach killers on the boot tips. She wore jeans and a neat blouse and when she bent over her Fender Stratocaster and slipped on the little glass bottle on her left finger, I knew we were in for something special. Her flaming shock of red hair swayed to the blues riffs and I knew I had found my new female singer attraction. Bonnie Raitt played a lot of venues in Boston and Philly at the time and she was taking off in the music world and I was a fan. I bought all of her tapes and subsequent CDs. bonnieraittnickoftime

Love had not found me yet, and I had a period of time driving my car to work and to ski areas where I felt sorry for myself and comforted myself in the melancholy tunes of Karla Bonoff. Driving along dark lonely roads, I felt like she was singing directly to me, the poor soul- no girlfriend and nothing in sight. A cactus in the desert, as I referred to myself. The old tune” The Water is Wide” left me shattered along with ” Someone to lay down beside me.” But things started to pick up and eventually I found the love of my life with my Janet. 012_karlabonoff

I spent a lot of time in the car and still do. My percussion skills on the steering wheel, aka timbalis, go well with my bass drum gas pedal. Now mind you, I don’t endanger myself but the truck drivers laugh when they look down on me and see me rockin’ with the ladies on the radio in my Jeep.

Janet and I found a new female recording artist when we went to an outdoor concert at Hartwood Acres here in Pittsburgh, and first saw bluegrass sensation Allison Krauss and Union Station. I had always liked bluegrass although the genre was lost on my bride. But sitting up front in the cool evening of late summer, she was enthralled with Allison’s voice and song selection and soon we had all the CDs and I played them relentlessly on the road tapping the steering wheel and swinging and swaying my way down the turnpike. alisonjpg-8733181b71368ffa

So why the fascination with female singers? I can tell you it is not anything sexual, but rather somehow, a woman singing is really beautiful to me. It had been that way since I was a little child and when I first heard stereo recordings of some of the world’s best female singers, I was hooked. Opera singers, folk singers, rock singers, they all had that quality of voice that appealed to me and although I rock out in the car to The Dead, The New Riders, The Eagles, The Stones, and on and on at ear splitting decibels, I find that most of the time, I am listening to the soothing sounds of female folk singers and soft rockers.

I am open to new artists and listening to Pandora the other day, I was taken by a singer who passed away in 1996. Eva Cassidy had a wonderful voice and her renditions of blues favorites are really well done. Imagine that I had not heard of her until now?maxresdefault She actually only gained notoriety after her death and it is a shame that she is gone. Her rendition of ” What a Wonderful World” and ” Over the Rainbow” left me speechless when I first heard them. Please take the time and listen to her and see if you are taken the same way that I was. Really….listen to this. https://youtu.be/2rd8VktT8xY

I have listened to a lot of music over the years, and when you put as much time in the car as I have, you gain an appreciation for music and lyrics. I am constantly searching for new artists but still play the old tunes. I sing with the ladies on the road, in the shower, and anywhere my travels take me. The truckers till laugh. Thanks for reading.

The Piano Man

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Well, I am going to see the real Piano Man tonight at PNC Park. Billy Joel has always been a real talent in my eyes and although I don’t expect to see him run all around the stage like the last time I saw him, I know his music is timeless. Thinking about the piano, let me tell you a few tales of my piano experience over the years.
It all started when my mom signed me up for piano lessons at 7 years old with Mrs. Chang from the neighborhood behind ours. I was excited to see if I could play and when I got my first music book with the songs “Birthday Party” and ” Sandman”, I worked hard to play them correctly. Mrs. Chang had her mom fill in from time to time and although she was a gracious older lady, she had this habit of passing gas during my chromatic scales. She would bounce one off the piano bench while sitting next to me and it was alarming/amusing as I was midway through the scale.I told my mom who said that it was part of the culture of Asia and nothing should be thought of it. Probably her way of making sure I did not quit.
Fast forward a couple of years to a new teacher down the street. Mrs. Manson was a little more demanding and her social graces more “western” so to speak as she politely scolded me if I did not practice to her satisfaction. My mom would always retrieve me from the field across the street and tell me to start walking to my lesson. I had to step up my game when Mrs. Manson had us do recitals every month with the other students who were mostly girls. As I sat down at the piano with a shirt and tie, the nerves always started to rattle because I did not want to look bad in front of a bunch of giddy grade school girls. It usually started with a clunker and Mrs. Manson would say, ” Start over again Patrick.” The sweat beads began to flow.
What turned the tide for me was when our backyard neighbor, Dorothy Morgan, gave me some music books featuring show tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe. I found out that I could play these tunes and accompany my mother who had perfect pitch and a beautiful voice. I can remember many parties at my folks where I would spend time playing for my mom to the delight of her guests. This continued when I became the default piano player at Christmas parties. Our spinet at home had many gin and tonics, beers, wine and other alcoholic drinks spilled in the keyboards over the years as revelers at my folks house would constantly bark in my ear,” Play White Christmas……dammit.”
Moving forward, my path to musical anonymity was aided by taking some piano electives at Allegheny College. I had the good fortune of studying under the tutelage of Lucille and Frederic Marantz who were noted classical pianists and performed nationally. A lot of the students in the music program, were studying to go to Oberlin or Julliard and yours truly struggled not to hit the cracks. At our college recitals, I would often come straight from the tennis courts, a ball of sweat, and bang out Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” as my performance piece while the other more refined and serious students played their sonatas and various piano pieces from the classical composers. Drs. Marantz saw me as a bit of an anomaly and a breath of fresh air in a program that was pretty structured as a feeder to Oberlin and Julliard. Allegheny was probably the high water mark of my piano playing.
I continued to play and had some funny experiences playing in bars and parties along the way which resulted in free beers and laughs. I even had an experience sitting in on Bourbon Street with an old time rag band in a bar. My friend Norm put me up to it on a business trip and the guys were kind to me by playing “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” which was a slow march and allowed me to keep up with my three chord progression in a major key. The sweat beads started to come again but I was happy to have performed as such on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
My piano sits a little idle in my house currently but as I get older, I see the need to keep up what meager skills I have. So I am sure that the Piano Man will inspire me to once again get partially serious about playing and if Janet, Joan and Jack can stand the occasional clunker and crack playing, I will fill the house with some kind of music. The moral of the story is that you are never too old to pick up a musical instrument. Encourage your child, grandchild, spouse, or whomever to play. It is good for your mind and you never know, people might ” put bread in your jar, and say Man! what are you doing here.” Thanks for reading.

Musical Trails

” Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Puff, puff, puff them and if you puff yourself to death. Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate that you just have to make him wait, but you just got to have another…..cigarette”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyYLrVNKE68

Nothing like a little Texas swing from Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to start a trail run. 924186 Now, I have always been a bit of a late bloomer as they say. I got married at a later age,had a child at a later age, still have not matured in many ways, and still put stamps on envelopes and mail my bills. But I am embracing technology and now have a new partner on my winter trail runs- Pandora. You might say, ” Pat- what is so novel about running with ear buds? Everybody does it.” Well I tried the I-Pod a number of years ago and didn’t like it because when I am riding my mountain bike, I like the feedback of sound from the trails. Same with skiing. If I hit an ice patch, I want to be able to hear it so my reaction is appropriate and not be distracted by Mick yelling in my ear that he needs some satisfaction. But running the trails- that is a horse of a different color. Thanks to Janet, JR, Chris, and Daryl, I have finally found Pandora on the trail and have loaded up my shuffle opportunities with some of my favorite music. download (3)

With the Byrds, Commander Cody, The Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and a host of other music from my college years, I can run over those logs and rocks and make time to the cadence of my favorite songs. I can get lost on those trails with daydream visions of my old dorm room with Bob Rose and his aviator sunglasses getting ready to put his KLH speakers out the window for spring term- blasting the Commander for everyone outside. I can see the cracked linoleum floors and see the packed refrigerator with Genesee Cream Ale provided by Jeff Ruggles. I can even see that curmudgeon of a lawyer Pat Clair, with his long black hair back in the day, tapping his toes to the rhythm of the Byrds. I can see the layout of that room with the early post office decor- because it genuinely was ripped off from the campus post office by a number of rowdies in our dorm. I laugh as I hear these old tunes and it helps me through the dark nights of the winter on the dark and desolate trails. I have run our trail system for 35 years. I have not become involved in the Fat Bike craze or the studded mountain bike tire craze yet because when it starts to get cold, sloppy, and icy, I park the mountain bike and pull out my trail running shoes. photo Something different and no hassle with extra clothes and a mud/ice caked bike. But again, I am a late bloomer and I may change. In my defense, my behaviors may be archaic, but I have always tried the latest sports equipment looking for an advantage. I did embrace the oversize tennis racquets, shaped skis, and 29er mountain bikes. But with regards to winter trail activities,I am still in the trail running,hiking,and snowshoe mode. But my new friend Pandora has made it all the more enjoyable. For 35 years I had to entertain myself with my own inane thoughts on those dark, lonely, winter trail runs. Now I have my old college musical friends running and hiking with me.

When the first real snow arrives, I pull out the snowshoes and am in a more contemplative mood. I like the beauty of the snow covered trees in the woods. My eclectic taste in music changes on these nights as I listen to Enya, Celtic Women, Sara McLaughlin,and Libera. The haunting Celtic melodies or the choir music of Libera almost elevate me as I hike the snow covered trails with my snowshoes. It is as if I am almost in another world of some kind with that peaceful, contemplative music in my ears coupled with the visual pastoral settings of a snow covered landscape.

It is interesting how music affects your mood and manages performance in activities like trail running. I like the shuffling of my selections but when that hard uphill comes into play right before the end at the parking lot, I like the ability to kick into my last effort with some inspirational music from ………..lets say……..The New Riders…….” Panama Red.” ” Just don’t know when Red’s in town, he keeps well hidden under ground…….” Ahhh, made it up the hill.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKgB-3aANe0 Amazing how that music got me going. Hey- I am a late bloomer. You guys have had the ear buds for years. I am just now discovering and enjoying it. Keep bringing me into the 21st century my friends. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.